Unequally Yoked: Separate or Stick?

Over the past few weeks, my Sunday School and Bible Study classes have been surveying the book of 2 Corinthians. Last week we came to a pretty tricky passage. We read these verses from 2 Corinthians 6:

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” 17 “Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord.

I don’t know how Paul’s charge strikes you, but I do know this: I examined this passage with three different classes last week, and the reactions among the three groups were very interesting. One group, a Singles Bible Study, especially latched onto how this passage applies to dating and marriage. Another group spent a great deal of time discussing how Paul’s instructions apply to business partnerships.

Perhaps the most poignant reaction of the week happened in my last class, where a young women, a friend, literally WRESTLED with these verses. She teared up as she pondered how they could impact her friendships and her witness. She wanted to understand how to balance God’s call to reach the lost with His call to avoid being yoked to non-Christians. She felt confused, and convicted, and confounded.

I appreciated her honestly, and her questions, and her struggle. The goal of Scripture for all of us should be to apply it, and that means wrestling. God doesn’t want us to be comfortable. He is always calling us to a higher walk.

Having said that, for those who studied with me last week, or for those who want to wrestle with this Scripture on your own, here are some final thoughts on 2 Corinthians 6:

  • Remember that there is a difference between being yoked to someone and being in someone’s life. If you can picture an old-timey yoke, it tied two animals together so that they were forced to pull in the same direction. Paul is describing people who are partners; allies. These are people who are connected in purpose and direction. I can be in the lives of all kinds of people without partnering with them, and I should be in their lives. I say that to say this – Paul was NOT teaching isolationism. On the contrary, throughout the New Testament, we are instructed to go out into the world and shine in the darkness. We follow the example of Jesus, who ate with sinners and showed compassion for their struggles. Paul’s call to separate cannot mean to ignore the example of Christ!
  • The question, then, is how to draw the line. How can we be a part of this world and still be separate from it? How can we live alongside of people and speak into their lives without being “yoked” to them? How do we know when to charge forward and when to step back? (Understand, there IS a time to do both).

The answer to that question may be more complicated than I am about to paint, but here are three simplistic questions to keep in mind:

#1 – How close is your relationship with this person, organization, business practice, etc.? Does the relationship require compromise on your part? In other words, to move alongside of this person, do you have to move away from the teachings of Scripture?

#2 – Who is wielding the greater influence in the relationship? Are you influencing the relationship for Christ, or are you being influenced? If you are being influenced, then the relationship is harmful for you, and you need to step away from it. Even if it began as a way for you to “shine light in the darkness”, you need to separate yourself and guard your heart. Remember, your heart belongs to Jesus, and you must guard it at all costs.

#3 – Has your tolerance of sin in the relationship moved to acceptance? In other words, have you become so desensitized to sin that you no longer grieve over it? If so, run! It is so easy in a relationship, whether with a person or an organization, to lose perspective when it comes to sin. After all, we must tolerate it, to some degree. There is no choice. We are sinners who live in a sinful world. It surrounds us, and we participate. Even Christians are not immune.

But there is a difference between tolerance and approval. As a Christian, I recognize sin in my life, and I grieve over it. I recognize sin in the lives of my friends, and I grieve over it. But when I enter a relationship that does not honor Christ, almost immediately I lose my perspective on sin. At first I overlook it. Then I stop noticing. Eventually, I may even approve of it.

That’s why being yoked with unbelievers is so dangerous – because when I align myself with a different worldview, walking with it step-by-step, I am moving away from Truth and towards darkness. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15, “Bad company corrupts good character. If I align myself with those outside of Christ, I am in danger of being compromised, and that is a risk that none of us should be willing to take!

So ask yourself, how does 2 Corinthians 6 apply to the relationships in your life? Remember, God did not call us out of this world. He wants us to have a presence and a voice in this culture. That means that, like Jesus, we need to invest ourselves in the lives of people who are lost. But we must be careful not to “yoke ourselves” to relationships that will divide our heart. After all, we belong to someone – if Jesus is Lord, then He wants all of you. And He is a jealous God. He is not willing to share your heart. Give it to Him alone, and pull away from those places that lead you astray. Be separate unto Him, and He will do mighty things through you.

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3 Responses to Unequally Yoked: Separate or Stick?

  1. Teresa Bourne says:

    Matthew that is an awesome way to explain that verse. I believe that is exactly what it means. Thank you for sharing God’s word and studying to make it easier to understand.

  2. Chris Harrington says:

    If you can visualize the image then you can see the difference. There are those in your life that you want to be in the yoke with…to help and be helped along the journey. And there are those that you simply walk beside, maybe occasionally placing a hand on the yoke to steer the course and in others simply having to let go all together.

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